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What is a Loft & How to Style One

Without these old converted factories into apartments, open plan living wouldn’t exist.
Roxanne Robinson Mar 04, 2021
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Perhaps even more enviable than the onscreen chemistry between Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in the 1990 hit movie Ghost was their formidable loft. Despite his apparition-state, Swayze and Moore garner the desire not only for their deep romantic connection but for this quintessential loft apartment that was all the rage. It’s important to remember that these living spaces were the real estate goal of the 1980s and 1990s New York. Nest Casa takes a look at the dwelling style for today’s tastes.

What is a Loft? A History of the Loft As Living Space

First, though let’s define loft - a term that, of course, was bandied about anytime a wall came down by real estate agents in hoping to add appeal. But genuinely speaking, loft apartments originated in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood starting in the 1960s. They were large, open spaces converted to living quarters from former factory and warehouse buildings. Generally speaking, these buildings had red-brick exposed interior walls and ornate support columns.

The neighborhood had roots dating back to the 1800’s first as an entertainment, shopping, and even red-light district. But this drove residents out, and by the mid-1800s, manufacturing, warehousing, and printing plants soon occupied the newly constructed famous cast-iron architecture. The neighborhood boasts over 250 of these decorative facade buildings with naturally high ceilings.

NYC Soho Loft Beginnings

It wasn’t always referred to as Soho until urban planner Charles Ripkin coined the name in 1962. The area was in decline at the time as bigger manufacturers moved to the South after WWII. In fact, it was referred to as ‘Hell’s Hundred Acres’ and home to sweatshops and small manufacturing such as cabinet-makers and lumber yards that supplied them, glass and china makers, and book publishers when it began to attract artists due to the presence of natural light thanks to multiple, high windows and open floor plans. The live-work setup was mostly illegal then but went unnoticed in the city, reeling from other financial and social issues at that time.

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However, the historic buildings and artists were almost driven out in the mid-1960s when Robert Moses planned to build an expressway through Broome Street connecting Brooklyn to New Jersey more easily. Despite initial support from Mayor John Lindsay, local urban activists such as Jane Jacobs and Margot Gayle were successful in thwarting the efforts, which would have consequently demolished the buildings and severely changed Lower Manhattan. By the early 1970s, artists and community groups successfully lobbied to change zoning laws to legally occupy the space for artists. By 1987, non-artists residing there became grandfathered into the law. 

Thus, the boom for loft-style apartments was in full swing. In effect, the demand for lofts pushed the trend into Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, which had similar building styles and was ripe for gentrification by the 1990s.

The Difference Between a Loft and a Traditional Apartment

Loft apartments are made from any large adaptable open space with high ceilings and lots of light. Whether converted in an existing structure or new, apartments tend to be smaller in size and with lower ceilings and designated separate rooms, namely bedrooms. Proper loft spaces didn’t even separate the sleeping quarters from the main living space.

Since lofts were created initially from converted factories and warehouses, in general, the difference between a  loft and a traditional apartment generally means apartments are either new construction or made from converted former residences. But that doesn’t mean either can be obtained in both manners, of course.

Loft Bedrooms

On the other hand, a loft can also refer to an upper area of a home, apartment, or dwelling generally used for sleeping. In many cases, these spaces are accessible by ladder and especially common under vaulted or cathedral ceilings. For instance, a popular place to find these is in converted barn dwellings or A-frame homes. They are hugely popular among families, for example, looking for additional space for teenagers and houseguests.

The Benefits and Pitfalls of Having a Loft

While enjoying wide-open space can be liberating in small city spaces, this luxury isn’t always welcome. Indeed, there are several reasons they are fantastic places to live. Obviously, the first benefit is the sense of freedom to move about; dance, exercise, or whatever can’t be rivaled. Hence a loft is critical for those who love to entertain and entertain big. Secondly, though, the scale possible through decorating. These spaces can accommodate large-scale art and architectural details such as a dramatic sleeping loft space or staircase. Lastly, if you are starting with a raw loft space to begin, there is no virtually no limit in the ability to carve out the area as one sees fit.

Thus, what are the downsides? Evidently, this isn’t a space for those who require privacy and quietness. For families wishing to spread out and carve one’s room in the home, especially when WFH and remote learning are the new normal, an open-plan living space may not be the right fit. Furthermore, depending on what type of building the loft is in or its condition, there may be hefty expense poured into bringing the space up to code before any renovation work could even begin.

Nest Casa’s Three Favorite Loft Styles

The Industrial Loft

Exemplified here is the very concept of the original loft apartment. For instance, the exposed red brick walls and massive arch windows with a rustic wood floor epitomizes the look. Furthermore, this loft demonstrates the entertainment factor nicely. A sense of intimacy in the open space was created by carving out two separate seating areas. Nonetheless, these areas blend nicely together. Lighting also adds a cozier dimension by creating pockets of light from ceiling track lights and floor lamps. However, it’s safe to say that they are only required at night or during overcast days in the light-drenched space.

Editor’s Picks: Industrial Loft Furnishings

The Minimalist Loft

A loft’s open space, usually devoid of overt architectural detail, is a minimalist’s dream. The New York City loft pictured, for instance, embodies it all. Created by German-born and New York-based architect Dorothee Junkin, in fact, this space was awarded the Apartment Interior American Architecture Prize in 2017. This loft offers visual interest with its clean lines and neutral white, grey, and brown color palette while maintaining a serene minimalist aesthetic. The luxe factor revved up in this apartment by using marble and a distinctive staircase leading to the upstairs bedroom suite.

Editor’s Picks: Minimalist Loft Furnishings

The Natural Loft

Of course, in the age of sustainability and an awakened concern for the environment, a loft in sync with nature is hugely desirable. Enter Biombo Architects of Bali, Indonesia, established in 2015. Led by Spaniard Nacho and his team, Biombo incorporates the lush island’s natural materials into the designs and includes the living ones. To demonstrate, these Villa Nina lofts, which are named so primarily due to their elevated open sleeping quarters, feature live Palm trees and plants inside in unison with the natural landscape just outside the front door. Indeed, the massive ceiling heights of loft spaces were used to allow for the greenery’s proportions.

Editor’s Picks: Natural Loft Furnishings

Roxanne Robinson
Roxanne Robinson is an award-winning Paris-based American journalist covering luxury and fashion industries with over 25 years of experience. I spent over 18 years at WWD, covering sportswear, accessories and fine jewelry. My career witnessed the shift from print media to the digital age. I gained expert knowledge of the design world, wholesale and retail markets as well as the marketing that supports them. I met endless creatives and business people who create luxury from inception to POS with the consumer. My work has appeared in Forbes.com, BoF, The Hollywood Reporter, CRFashionbook.com, The Jewelry Journal as well in-house publications and websites at Bally, Pomellato, Au Depart and Editorialist.com among others.
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